Friday, April 30, 2010

The 100 Mile Diet

Why is locally grown food better? We believe that some things are self-evident:

*Supporting local farmers keeps jobs and younger people in the community which is important in an aging area such as Oceanside.

*Less shipping means you get fresher and more varied produce such as heritage tomatoes that do not transport well making them delicious but unsuitable for commercial production.

*Less shipping also means less depletion of precious oil resources.

*Fresh grown local organic produce does not contain the chemicals and heavy metals found in many commercially grown crops, but it does contain higher levels of minerals and vitamins necessary for health such as beta-carotene and vitamin C.

It's no surprise to anyone anymore that the food we eat comes from miles away. We readily accept that our melons are available year round from as far away as Chile, Australia,and French Polynesia. Our cut flowers are from Africa and South America, even the flour we eat may not be Canadian.

So why does this matter to us? It's not like food actually costs very much in terms of real dollars. We're not India where many people spend more than 60% of their daily earnings on food. We're not "poor".

Maybe not, but we're depleting the Earth's resources at an alarming rate. Resources such as water, oil, even the very soil we depend on to grow our food and sustain us. Sure we can all look at California's water shortages and say things like 'well that's what you get for messing with nature and growing food in a desert' but really this is a problem that affects us all. We're not protected from the price increases forever. Sure, other countries will see starvation increase as the price of food goes up while we sit here all cozy in North America, but it'll catch up to us too.

We all know cheap oil isn't going to be around forever and with it's decline go the easy use of petro-chemicals used for fertilizer and pesticide by almost all farmers currently. Even organic farmers aren't immune. We face the very real problems of water scarcity even here on Vancouver Island where it seems always to rain, and soil erosion due to run-off and wind occur regularly at a rate that mother nature cannot replenish. Many farmers are doing things like composting and cover cropping to not only stop this but actually reverse it, but not enough of the commercial farms do. Here's an excerpt from a recent Alternet post.

The Food Nightmare Beneath Our Feet: We're Running Out of Soil
Each year the world loses an estimated 83 billion tons of soil. What does this mean for food production and what can we do about it?
April 28, 2010 |

At his farm in Willits, California, John Jeavons teaches the next generation to grow soil.
John Jeavons is saving the planet one scoop of applesauce at a time. Jeavons stands at the front of the classroom at Ecology Action, the experimental farm he founded on the side of a mountain above Willits, in Northern California’s Mendocino County. For every tablespoon of food he sucks down his gullet, he scoops up six spoonfuls of dirt, one at a time for dramatic effect, and dumps them into another bowl. It’s a stark message he’s trying to get across to the 35 people who have come from around the country to get a tour of his farm -- simplified, to be sure, but comprehensible: For every unit of food we consume, using the conventional agricultural methods employed in the U.S., six times that amount of topsoil is lost. Since, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the average person eats a ton of food each year, that works out to 12,000 pounds (5,443 kilograms) of topsoil. John Jeavons estimates that using current farming practices we have 40 to 80 years of arable soil left.

If you don’t already know the bad news, I’ll make it quick and dirty: We’re running out of soil. As with other prominent resources that have accumulated over millions of years, we, the people of planet Earth, have been churning through the stuff that feeds us since the first Neolithic farmer broke the ground with his crude plow. The rate varies, the methods vary, but the results are eventually the same. Books like Jared Diamond’s Collapse and David Montgomery’s Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations lay out in painful detail the historic connections between soil depletion and the demise of those societies that undermined the ground beneath their feet.

According to the International Soil Reference and Information Centre (ISRIC), as of 1991, human activity has brought about the degradation of 7.5 million square miles (19.5 million square kilometers) of land, the equivalent of Europe twice over. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. has estimated that the value of lost soil nutrition in South Asia amounts to some $10 billion a year. Each year, says Montgomery, the world loses 83 billion tons of soil.

Still, these abstract facts have a way of eluding our comprehension. When we put a human face on them they begin to sink home. The U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has estimated that desertification in Sub-Saharan Africa will drive 60 million people from their homes in the next 20 years. While agriculture has thus far been able to keep pace with growing demand, it has done so by borrowing soil fertility from the future. But whether a global crisis is 20, 50 or 200 years away, the point remains the same: We as a species would be wise to take better care of our dirt.

In the hyper-abstracted economics of today, it is easy to forget that land is one of the irreducible foundations of all economies. As the world economy has deflated in the last year, it has driven many people all over the world back to earth, if only to grow a few tomatoes in their backyards. In 2009, the Associated Press reported a 19 percent increase in residential seed sales in the U.S., a bump known in the business as “recession gardening.” When the Obamas planted a garden on the White House lawn, it was at once an economic, environmental and spiritual gesture -- a nod, if nothing else, to the primacy of dirt.

There are many ways of making a difference and I know I don't have to tell you. So I won't. You support local agriculture and we appreciate you. We support our planet by importing more into out soil in the form of compost than we remove in the form of vegetables. One of our lovely customers sent this short movie I thought you'd all enjoy watching.

Have a wonderful weekend. I'm off into the garden to go get my hands dirty.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

We Dig Diggs!

Diggs is our new pig in case you were wondering. Named after or Grandson Diego (diggs). He's settled in quite happily with the cows and has his own stable for sleeping and he's made a cute little nest in his straw. He really is very clean too, no poop in his stable at all. We just go in there in the morning and find him buried in the straw with his ears sticking out and sometimes an exploratory nose. Having made it all sound like roses though...he escaped the very first day and spent his first night at large in our cow pasture. We found him sleeping in a pile of dry leaves (smart pig) at the end of the field. Now he's used to us a little more but still not totally comfortable with people. That'll change I'm sure.

Our piglet is a Tamworth boy but fixed so no breeding for us unfortunately. Tamworths are lovely medium sized ginger pigs and are a heritage breed. Their meat is very tasty and they are very healthy and robust pigs suited to being raised outdoors. And outdoors is in our opinion, the best place for a pig. He's got a nice dry place to sleep and if our luck holds he'll have a buddy or 4 soon.

I have to run into town to take kids to school but will write more later. Did I tell you we got our alpacas moved over from Karyn's place yesterday?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Planting underway

Yesterday saw the planting of the rhubarb crowns we picked up at the 4H auction and also about 50 strawberries. I'm going to plant the other strawberries in a different spot to see where they do better. Today we are planting out more peas, potatoes, corn (yes I know it's too early yet) and about 70 raspberries. We also have to plant a fig, 2 grapes and a cute little cox's orange pippin apple tree. Well, it's more of a whip than a tree but it'll grow. We're amending the soil as we plant rather than broadcasting and as we need nitrogen and potash (our phosphorous level is good) we are using kelp meal and canola meal sprinkled on the soil. We also have a lovely seaweed based fertilizer for use during the season too. It's not much more expensive to go organic as far as fertilizer is concerned, just more labour intensive.

We have some new additions to the menagerie. 4 Brahma chicks (our favourite chicken breed) arrived yesterday so I just put them in with the Americauna chicks, they're all about the same age. They're going to need a bigger box pretty soon so that's a project for later today.

We also have a beautiful Tamworth piglet named Digs after our grandson Diego. He managed to escape his cozy stable the very first hour he was here but is happily wandering around the cow field an in the byre with them. I shut the cows in separately last night and left his food down and his door open so I'm hoping he'll go in to eat. At least I'll feel better knowing he's eaten. We are getting a couple of Yorkshire White piglets today so I think they'll attract him back from the "wild" and give him some company. I think it will take a gentle touch and some yummy food for him to warm up to us but that's ok, we have some time. And pigs are by and large a very friendly and sociable lot so I'll keep you posted.

I have to run. Church today and then out into the garden for planting.

Looks like our CSA is full unless there is a cancellation so 'Welcome' to our new friends. It's going to be a great year! Check back soon to see what we're up to.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tilling is Complete!

Yep, it stopped raining long enough for our wonderful neighbour Bill Van Duin to pop over with his tractor and do the final tilling of all 4 gardens. Now it may not seem like a big deal to most of you, but hand digging or even roto-tilling an acre takes days and he was able to get it done in a matter of minutes. I doubt it took even an hour. He snuck over while I was out getting kids at school. The only evidence were some muddy tractor tyre tracks leading from my driveway onto the road and then a glorious sight burst upon my view...fluffy level fields ready to be planted! Yay!

I know...give me a bucket to contain my joy!

Well, the greenhouse has officially run out of room for more seedlings so I guess that means the other greenhouse is going to have to pick up the slack. Overnight temp was a meager 3 degrees but 8.3 inside the greenhouse just before the sun came up. Having chicks in there definitely helps keep it warmer and they love the room. The chicks we bought at the auction on Saturday are doing really well. All eating and drinking and so far no losses. Pics will follow soon. Steve is going to work on a chicken tractor today for some of the layers and then we'll tweak the design for meat birds.

Due to the current lack of broiler hatching eggs, we cannot seem to get meat chicks anywhere. Our order has been delayed yet again until the end of May. Apparently the shortage is continent wide. I think I'll keep a few hens and a rooster back this time and start hatching out my own chicks instead of buying them.

The tomatoes in the greenhouse are doing well and it looks like we'll have several hundred plants to sell at the farmers market in Qualicum. Peppers too if we're lucky. What do you guys think is a fair price?

I have to run and feed critters and take kids to school. It's field trip/swimming day so the girls are excited.

Oh, the salad box I planted is all up. Spinach, lettuce, radishes etc are all growing nicely despite the lack of warm weather.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Warmer Weather

It seems we are heading for some warmer weather this week with the overnight lows staying a few degrees above freezing. If this keeps up we will be able to leave the seedlings out in the greenhouse overnight which will save hauling them in and out every day.

More veggies are starting in flats today and I'll let you know how everything else goes. The alpacas are due to be moved over here this week too. Yay! Maybe pigs too.

The hens tractor is going up today so I'll take some pics to show you how we did it and maybe you can make your own. The great thing is they're so flexible you can make them bigger or smaller depending on what you need. For backyard chickens you don't need to go out and buy a shed and dog run, that would cost you over $1000. You could construct a 4x4x4 box with window, door and some ventilation for under $50 and then an attached run for say $40 more or less depending on your wire choice. You can use the plastic poultry netting but please remember that while the chickens can't get out...critters like a dog or raccoon could certainly get in.

Plowing is going well, or should that be 'ploughing'? I like the 'gh' spelling but must have a US spell check on the blog here.

We have some new members to our CSA so if you're reading this...Welcome! It looks to be a good productive year and we're trying some new varieties of melon and tomato this year. Don't worry, we'll still have the tasty heritage ones available too. We're going to try cucumbers both in and out of the greenhouse to see what gives best results. I'm going to have some pickling cukes I think this year too for anyone interested and salsa peppers too. We are still growing our california wonder peppers with the addition of a yellow variety and also a bulls horn pepper which is similar to a calif. but is longer and better suited to our local climate. Same for our heritage tomatoes. For spuds (potatoes) we're going to have red, white, blue and the regular russet ones. They're going in starting next week though I have to tweak our planting schedule a bit but it looks good for the peas and some of the cool weather beans can go in this week to the main fields. Our salad gardens are sprouting and with a few days of light rain in the forecast should be getting well under way by next week. Ditto for the cabbage and spinach which is going to be put under row covers out in the main garden. We use row covers to keep out the insects and avoid having to spray or use chemicals. The fabric gets buried in the ground along the edges so no cabbage moths can lay eggs...simple yet effective. It takes more materials of course but the fabric is re-usable for many years and we don't mind the extra work. Floating row covers are great for many different crops both for insect exclusion and to protect from a light frost. They aid in germination by creating a mild greenhouse effect and the few extra degrees can make a difference of upto 4 weeks in the growing season. An extra 4 weeks of planting and harvesting...we'll take it!

Our trip to the Vancouver Temple was Heavenly! It's so peaceful and quiet there and it was nice to get away from the hustle and bustle even for a few hours and wonderful to be able to take the kids inside for the free guided tour. It's open to the public until April 24th so if you'd like more info I'll post the free invitation on the blog if I can figure out how. After all, it's not everyday you get to see inside a Mormon temple.

Time to get going for the day. The kids have fed all the animals but the hens, they're still in their pen but I can hear the roosters crowing so I know they're awake. Ruminants like cows and sheep eat in the morning and evening and then use the daytime to digest. That's why if you're here in the afternoon it's common to see the sheep all lazing about having a nap and chewing.

Have a wonderful day!


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Spring is Here!

If you are interested in CSA shares we have 4 left at the time of posting. Please see archived posts above for more details of e-mail us.

Well, Spring is here in the afternoons at least. If you're up as early as I am, and live a few hundred feet above sea level, you know that the past week has brought us snow, sleet, and a heavy frost almost every night. Still, a few afternoons of warm weather and sunshine are quickly warming the soil and today we got most of the heavy ploughing done. We still can't do the main garden in front because it's under water so that will likely not be turned and planted until the end of the month but that fits with the garden plan do it's all working out. We have a half acre that needs to have the discs run over it a few times before planting and we will also rototill it and run the chickens over it in a chicken tractor to get out any bugs and grubs. Natural insecticides...gotta love chickens!

Incase you're wondering, a chicken tractor is a movable house with a run attached that is the same size as a large garden bed. Yes, we make them that way on purpose. We can move some of the hens around from bed to bed cleaning up after one crop and doing some weeding and scratching for us and when they are done we just move them on to the next one. Or onto pasture. They're happy and lay the best eggs! You can use it for meat birds raised on pasture also and make it any size you like. Mother Earth news has an article and some pics of a chicken tractor built for pasture raising birds. It's wood and so would be heavier to move, you'd need a tractor or 4 strong guys, but it'll give you an idea and we'll post pic of ours once finished.

This weekend will see the construction start of a new green house. We are building a poly-tunnel style greenhouse and it will extend the growing season by several weeks. For example, we can sow lettuce right into the ground along with peas, carrots and beans etc. about 3 weeks before we can plant out in the field. This means you get vegetables earlier and also further into the fall. The beds in a greenhouse are rotated just as our regular field crops are. This natural rotation leads to a more balanced level of nutrients in the soil and helps us avoid pest problems. For example, if carrot flies are hatching in last years carrot patch they're going to starve because this year it's all corn and they have nothing to eat. Same with the corn pests, now they're surrounded by cabbages. It also works by putting good things in the soil. For example peas fix nitrogen with little nodules on their roots. They make more nitrogen than they need and leave the extra in the soil for other plants to use.

That's all there is to report today. We just came home from a friends baptism and now are getting the tomatoes moved in from the greenhouse, the kids scrubbed clean and into bed, and things ready for our various church meetings tomorrow.

Have a lovely weekend!


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

CSA Shares Going Fast!

Ok, now we're down to 9 and a half shares so if you're thinking about joining us, please let us know ASAP. I suspect they will all be gone by mid-month.

** As of Friday Morning April 9th we have 6 shares left**
** Make that 5 1/2 **

Things are windy but going well in the greenhouse. The lettuce is all up and the tomatoes are enjoying some time indoors along with a few hundred other seedlings.

Snowball, our white Nigerian Dwarf goat looks fit to burst so we expect her kids in a few more weeks. Her sister Blackberry is way slimmer so maybe only 1 kid there, we'll see I guess. Suzie the cat is also imminently due and the Lovebird laid 2 eggs. I guess it's that time of year when everything springs to life again!

Friday, April 2, 2010

CSA - What is a Farm Share?

In addition to our regular market garden we also offer shares. It's a fantastic way to participate in the '100 mile diet' and to re-connect to your local growers, like us!

What is CSA? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture and is basically a way for farmers to get to know their customers and sell their produce at it's peak of freshness and for customers to meet local farmers and share in the bounty of the farm through fresh produce delivered to their door for 20 weeks.

At HumbleBee farm we're a small family operation so we concentrate on producing healthy and delicious fresh produce first for ourselves and our share holders, and secondly for our customers at the Farmers Market. We offer full shares and half shares. A full share entitles you to 20 weeks of our delicious, naturally grown produce, delivered right to your door. A full share is $400 and you are purchasing $20 of produce per week delivered to your door. We plant crops in season and we also grow salading for most of the year so there will always be a good variety of produce that's fresh and tasty including berries, herbs, fruits and vegetables. We can even help with recipes! Yummy!

As a benefit to our share holders we will be having a harvest festival at the farm this fall for you all to come see us, pet the animals, give us your suggestions for next year, and to enjoy a BBQ with us. Did I mention there will be time to go pick your own pumpkin for free from our patch? We'll also have lots of winter storage veggies available for purchase too so you can stock up and plan your canning and bottling.

During the main growing season we will have a booth at the Qualicum Beach Farmers Market every Saturday morning and we'd love to see you! If there's anything in particular you're looking for ie. pickling cucumbers, tomatoes for canning etc. Just let us know and we will try to accommodate you. You can make an appointment to come by the farm and collect fresh produce Monday to Friday. We are closed on Sundays.

Eggs shares are available for $100 for the 20 weeks, this includes 1 dozen free range naturally raised heritage eggs per week with your food basket and an additional free-range roasting chicken that's oven ready. Just wait till you taste a fresh healthy chicken, they're so tender and moist and the flavour is out of this world!

Whole oven-ready roasting chickens are available fresh twice per year and frozen year-round for $4 per pound. Naturally raised outside on pasture and government inspected, our chickens are DELICIOUS!!

Turkeys will be available fresh for Thanksgiving and Christmas. A $20 deposit is required to reserve a turkey and they sell out fast so please order early and let us know the size you require. We raise both Bronze heritage turkeys and white. If you have a preference let us know. Bronze taste a little more 'turkeyish' and are on average smaller. Our whites can reach upwards of 45 lbs but are usually between 25 and 35 lbs. That means lots of food for a large family gathering and some scrumptious left-overs.

Does any of this make you hungry? Would you like to know more about or natural growing methods (no chemicals or pesticides) or our selection of veggies for 2010? Would your family like a full share this year? We have 9 available as of April 2nd so please let us know fast!

I thought it was "March" winds....

Today it seems we're getting both the March winds and the April showers. Good for the ground moisture I guess, but frustrating for a farmer who wants to be out in the sunshine planting...maybe tomorrow the clouds will break.

The animals are all cozied up in their homes watching the rain with the exception of a few intrepid lambs on the lookout for some nice juicy grass. I can hardly believe how big they're getting! Katahdins really are great sheep!

The goats are looking decidedly chunky and are ready to kid (have goat babies) between the end of the month and the middle of April.

We have a new queen and bees coming from Chile this week so expect pictures soon!

Gotta run and plant seedlings, also we're trying to put a poly cover on the greenhouse, in the rain and wind no less, I'll let you know how it goes!

John our son is out in the wet and cold converting his enormous blue bus into a cozy home for his family. I tell you, that takes dedication in weather like this when it's raining and the wind is whistling through the windows. I personally would rather sit back in front of the woodstove with a good book! The cat has the right idea, she's all curled up basking in the glow of the firelight.

We still have 8 full shares available for the 2010 growing season so please let us know if you're interested. I'll explain CSA shares in a future post.

Oh, we started a lacto-bacilli culture for making our own root beer (soda). Ours will actually be more like gingerale when we're done. The culture takes a week to grow and then the soda takes another 2 or 3 days to become carbonated after it's bottled. I'll let you know how it turns out.

We also have 2 chicks out of our incubator who are growing well under a heat lamp in our laundry room, one escaped today and was nearly eaten by the cat, at least that's the story the kids are telling. We parents are smart and slept in until 7 as it's Good Friday today and therefore a holiday.